Oh, final warning. This chapter contains Joey fluff. It's really, really fluffy. And it's also the part where what I've seen of Battle City shows up and bites me. Really sorry. The interlude should hopefully clear things up when I get round to writing it.
Chapter Two: Family Issues
Nothing ever stops all these thoughts and the pain attached to them Sometimes I wonder why this is happenin' It's like nothing I can do will distract me When I think of how I shot myself in the back again Hearing your name the memories come back again I remember when it started happening I see you in every thought I had and then The thoughts slowly found words attached to them
Nothing ever stops all these thoughts and the pain attached to them
Sometimes I wonder why this is happenin'
It's like nothing I can do will distract me
When I think of how I shot myself in the back again
Hearing your name the memories come back again
I remember when it started happening
I see you in every thought I had and then
The thoughts slowly found words attached to them
Joey sat in the station café after his trip, inhaling the coffee scent. It was pitch black outside, and cold. The glowing face on the clock said eleven-thirty. The train had been delayed, and he'd to call his mom and tell her that he'd be arriving late. She'd hummed and sighed at that, making vague disapproving noises down the phone, and he could hear her mouthing the word Typical.
He'd hated that. He had horrible thoughts that his mom might start tarring him with the same brush she used for his father.
Don't take that wrong: Joey loved his dad. But his mom and dad didn't love each other. Mom was always working, always doing something. Dad had been the one who'd really looked after him and Serenity.
When Mom walked out, Dad had demanded why. Mom had started on her nagging again - she didn't shout, but she went on about stuff really quietly until you wished she would just shout at you. She accused him of being a lazy bum who never lifted a finger to help her, didn't have a job, lazed around at home all day.
Dad lifted a finger then - he slapped Mom.
Joey leaned his head against the cold window, watching his breath mist up the glass, hugging his thick coat around himself.
It was the first and last time someone had raised a hand to someone else in the Wheeler household. Dad wasn't a violent guy. He'd apologised afterwards, but at the moment he slapped Mom something seemed to have broken inside Mr Wheeler - like someone had pulled the plug out of the bath and all the water was whirling away too fast.
Dad had yelled. Yelled that Mom never spent time with her kids, never took time to see them. Cooking and cleaning the apartment, and looking after an eight year old and a four year old were a full time job in their own right, especially as one of them was in special needs class at school and the other was going blind.
Joey let go of his plastic cup quickly. He'd nearly crushed it, thinking of that. Thinking of when they were all together was painful, especially when he thought of the way he made Serenity lie in bed with pillows over her head so she wouldn't hear it, then stood in the doorway watching them fight.
Joey hadn't been sure about staying with his mom when Serenity had mentioned it. Serenity swore that she'd got better - when she moved in with Rick she'd been a lot more easy going and started spending more time with her daughter.
The blond boy wasn't convinced, and "Rick" was someone he didn't know. Rick was a two second presence for when Serenity didn't get to the phone first. He was a little voice demanding if Serenity had glued the phone to her ears, and if either of them were considering the size of people's phone bills. He didn't like thinking about Rick.
Mom was a similar taboo subject. Thinking about mom usually just upset him. Serenity always asked if he wanted to talk to her when he called, but if he did, the conversations were awkward and stilted, both of them fumbling for words they needed but didn't have, until they could trail off and hand the phone over.
Serenity didn't have that problem with Dad: the two could chatter together for ages.
Joey sighed, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms. He was doing it again: thinking of the look in his Dad's eyes when Joey had said goodbye, or the lost, lonely, jealous look he'd got when he found out Joey was going to see Serenity.
He didn't want to think about his parents. He wanted to be in a good mood when he saw Serenity for the first time in about a year. He knew her voice off by heart, but when he tried to picture her, he saw only the photos, like the one he kept in his wallet.
How sad was that, when you couldn't picture your sister as she was?
Joey ran a hand through his hair and sipped at his coffee again. It was getting cold. Ew.
Sometimes Joey wished he was as brainless as everyone thought he was. That way he wouldn't have all this going over and over in his head, upsetting him and driving him insane.
'Think of something else. Someone else. ANYTHING else.'
His eyes drifted to the TV, but it was football and he just wasn't in the mood for it. His eyes moved over the café, and he was suddenly caught by a mass of long blonde hair mincing down the station.
"Mai...?" he asked, the word barely louder than a breath. He shook his head at his own stupidity. Mai probably wasn't here - she'd be laughing it up somewhere posh.
Or would she? He actually had no idea of where Mai lived, what she did. Hell, he didn't even know how old she was. She talked like someone's mother sometimes, looked like a teenage model, and somehow managed to add to all that the money-focus of most of the girls in his class.
Hey, Mai was a distraction! Perfect!
But on that thought, it all became useless as a tall woman with a brown ponytail walked in, one hand wrapped around that of a girl's. He knew the girl's face. He'd memorised it from photos, memorised the russet coloured hair and the way her green- hazel eyes were always opened extra-wide to help her see.
And he couldn't speak. He couldn't even breath. All he could do was stare at the couple, drinking in the sight of... of his family.
"Can you see him?" a soft voice asked, as the eyes swept over the restaurant. "Is he here?"
If he hadn't been listening for it, straining to hear the words, he would have missed them. When had Serenity become so quiet?
Somehow, he managed to stand, managed to move into the aisle. He couldn't believe it. He couldn't.
"Serenity?" he whispered. "That you?"
The head whipped round, and their eyes met for the first time in way too long.
Then before he realised, they were moving forwards - he abandoning his bag, she abandoning her mother - arms reaching out, tears trickling down their cheeks, and then they were hugging each other tightly, he practically breaking her back, she close to choking him, both crying, both happy.
Joey was reunited with his sister, and everything was all right in the world for at least a few moments.
Serenity buried her face into his chest, then looked up at him with pure joy radiating from her. Joey, on a sudden urge, lifted her off her feet and swung her around in a circle. Sure, they'd called each other, but it wasn't the same, it was no where near the same, it just wasn't as good - as right - as seeing your little sister in front of your eyes, hugging her tightly, knowing that if you stopped talking for a moment she would still be there, knowing that the time you had with her wasn't being measured in money...
Joey, feeling mushy and sentimental, kissed her forehead. Serenity giggled.
"Hi big brother," she murmured, brushing his fringe with a small pale hand.
Joey looked at her, still smiling, then crushed her to his chest again. He couldn't speak. He couldn't work out what would be the right thing to say, and if he'd probably just put his foot in it if he tried to talk now.
"I missed you," Serenity whispered, hugging him.
"Same here," Joey managed to rasp. "Only it's kinda the understatement of the century."
And then the woman stepped forwards, coming close to the bubble Joey and Serenity were wrapped it. She stopped, just out of it, not sure what to say, how to act. Joey could appreciate that. He wasn't sure how to act with her, what to say. What do you say to the woman who walked out of your life and took your most important thing with it?
The woman smiled tearfully and started to bite her bottom lip. She was a little shorter than him now, and her red-brown hair was getting a little lighter at the temples, but she was essentially the same.
Slowly, Joey unwound an arm from Serenity's waist and offered it to stranger that used to be his mother.
The woman stumbled forwards, then enfolded Joey into a fierce, protective hug. He wasn't sure how it happened, but his mom had started crying, and he was crying, and Serenity was sniffling a bit, and the three of them just blocked the café doorway, hugging and crying.
"Welcome home Joey," his mom whispered.
Most people would be asleep. Most people would be indoors at least.
Very few would be sat on their roofs in the middle of the night, admiring the storm clouds.
But when you are surviving on two hours of restless sleep, determined not to repeat them for fear of nightmares, anything that will keep you awake seems like a good idea.
He sat on his roof, wind whipping through his hair, wrapped in the thickest coat he owned, cradling a mug of tea. He didn't like coffee and refused to keep it in the house. But he understood that it contained enough caffeine to keep you buzzing for a few hours at least.
Tomorrow, he would be buying some. He wouldn't be able to survive without some outside aid.
But as it had just gone midnight, it would probably be today, wouldn't it?
And there was school later. Joy.
It was... strange, to look out at Domino spread out around him and think that out of the thousand or so people in town, there was only a small handful of them awake. Only a handful of people ready to appreciate the silence and the night time.
Yami no Bakura leapt from the roof, landing in a crouch on the driveway. He stood perfectly still for a moment, hands in pockets and head down, before he started to walk. He didn't know where he was going, and right now he didn't care.
The police hospital was actually quite comfortable. Not up to his usual standards - there were no curtains on the windows, only disgusting grey blinds; the lights were bare electric one, probably designed to blind those stuck in there, and the whole place reeked of twenty odd men shoved together in a concrete box, which was basically what had happened - but beggars cannot be choosers.
And he was a beggar now. Kaiba had arranged it. Done it deliberately. That devil in teenage form, that wolf in lambs clothing -
The machine at his side, the one with the irritating beep that counted his heartbeat, was practically humming now. One of the nurses looked up, making as though to come check on him.
Ozomashii took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. His heartbeat dropped back to normal, and he forced himself to relax. It was bad enough that he was in the place at all. He did not need more attention to be brought to him. Not until his lawyer arrived.
Although he was not very hopeful. He'd been careless - so very, very careless. Attacking Kaiba in front of witnesses was not one of his most brilliant ideas. If he hadn't attacked him when he did, he could have pleaded self-defence.
Perhaps he could still claim self defence... He smiled, the effect more than grotesque as it twisted up the scars where his lips should be. Fighting policemen was another of his less than fantastic ideas. Kaiba though, openly attacking him. As far as he recalled, he hadn't done anything openly threatening until Kaiba had kicked the chair at him. And walking up to someone, no matter how menacingly you may have done it, was not a crime. And he had the best lawyers in the area, they would be sure to be able to free him and -
Want payment. Payment that, if Kaiba had carried out his threat, he would not be able to provide.
The man growled under his breath. Everything came back to Kaiba. All his current problems to be traced back to one source; Kaiba.
If it hadn't been for Kaiba, then the company would have been his. If it wasn't for Kaiba losing to that midget, they wouldn't have had to bring Pegasus into anything. Pegasus and his ridiculous games. He was almost as bad as the boy himself. So caught up in his little games that he couldn't deal with the situation at hand -
"Come on now Mr Ozomashii, calm down."
The speaker was a nurse, wearing the standard white slacks and shirt. He'd yet to see a nurse in a skirt, which was mildly vexing. Of course, he was in a building filled with criminals and vulgar lowlifes, so it was probably better that the nurses did not show their flesh.
But it was quite a blow for gentlemen like him.
And it was definitely a shame where this girl was concerned. She had thick black hair and wide black eyes and dark - tanned? - skin. Quite pretty. Even if the look in her eyes was that of a boxer sizing up their next opponent.
"It must be annoying, trapped here because of a good for nothing child, mustn't it?"
Her accent was odd as well. It was not one he could place, and he'd to most places in the world. Most civilised places. He was not a fool - again, Pegasus sprang to mind - who globe trotted to anywhere and everywhere.
"You have no idea."
The girl smiled at him, twining one long hair from her ponytail around her fingers.
"How much do you want to get out?"
Ah, this was language he understood. Back on familiar ground as it were. Bribes and deals were a way of life to him.
"How much would it cost me?"
She laughed. "Cutting to the chase are we? Very well, let's talk business." The girl snapped her fingers, and... something appeared at her side, hovering on a level with the bed. It looked like a huge red clock, wearing a cloak and - good god - a top hat. It held a staff in one hand - not the hands on it's face, but actually hands on the end of arms, poking out of the side of it.
There was a soft, mechanical hum, and the clock hands started spinning and whirling. Ozomashii sat up, staring at the clock, and watched it with dazed fascination.
"You might want to close your eyes Mr Ozomashii," the girl warned, smirking at him as though she knew something he didn't. That was proved when the clock squawked something he didn't catch, and pointed the staff at him. The resulting flash of blue and white light half blinded him.
Ozomashii rubbed his streaming eyes, cursing the girl in every language he knew. It didn't help matters much when he heard a soft, crow-like laugh.
"I did warn you," she said casually. "Now perhaps you'll listen to me?"
Ozomashii growled under his breath and looked around him. Something seemed different about this scene. Something very, very wrong.
For a moment, he couldn't place it. Alderman was on his way to the floor, his drip tube wrapped around his neck. One of the nurses was coming through the door, face set in a frown. A fly hovered near the light bulb. All the other inmates were asleep.
But then it twigged.
Alderman was floating. He was three feet from the floor, his blankets tangled around him, but he didn't move. It was as though gravity was suspended. The nurse coming through the door, he stood with one foot in the air and his hand on the door knob, looking like someone had taken a photo of him midstep. Ditto for the fly.
"What did you do?" he asked, staring around him with wonder. His voice seemed very loud and jarring, even to himself.
"Oh, it's simple really," the girl assured, petting the clock. "We stopped time."
"Stopped... time..." He laughed harshly. "My god, I've finally gone insane... I'm hallucinating right? This is just an odd dream?"
The woman stretched, then gave him the most scrutinising look since he first met his mother in law. "Well... Let me put it this way. I need someone of your... expertise in my work. I also need someone with a grudge against Kaiba who isn't too squeamish."
"My expertise?" The last sentence implied something he liked the sound of.
"Oh yes. Let me explain."
And she did explain. And Ozomashii listened.
And when she was done, he smiled.
"Dammit, how many times have I told them to sedate him? This is getting beyond a joke!"
"Don't look at me, it's not my fault, I'm not on day shift!"
"Get his arms! I can't untangle him when he's trying to take my head off!"
The noise woke the convicts. Most of them saw the source of the disturbance and went back to sleep. But one, doing time for dangerous driving - nasty smash-ups and all that - looked blearily around and asked the question that would bring the wrath of Kaiba down upon the heads of all concerned.
"Where the hell is Ozomashii?"
The music was soft, a gentle melody that flowed and sparkled like water.
She hated it.
("Aren't you supposed to be at work Takkai?"
The words are addressed to a red haired man in a battered car, who's apparently dropping off a girl who could only be his sister. The speaker is a tall man - no, not a man, a boy. A boy who's aged beyond his years. But then, haven't they all? - with chestnut hair and ocean blue eyes.
The car driver doesn't look up but starts a litany under his breath of what could only be curses. The sharp-boned girl with him kisses his cheek then clambers awkwardly out of the car. As soon as the door shuts he vanishes in a roar of exhaust fumes.
The girl does not look at the boy, and the boy looks as though he's trying to decide whether to say something or not. Before he can make up his mind though, she murmurs "I heard about yesterday," in a very neutral tone.
The boy snorts, looking a little amused. "The accurate version or the version where your brother plays the hero?"
It is the girl's turn to smile, and it is both bitter and relieved. "The version that said you ruined Liam's fun by beating the crap out of some business man before he got there."
"Close enough." The man has apparently made up his mind, and turns to walk up the path.
The girl walks slowly behind him, though not close enough to be considered with him. "I don't know whether I'm pleased or annoyed to see you," she muses. "Do they still not have any places at university?"
"I was wondering how long it would take you. I didn't think someone of your mind-set could go for long without a wisecrack of some kind."
"Then I must have the same mind-set as you - you only open your mouth to tell us how stupid we are." She sighs theatrically. "I went a whole year without being insulted by Seto Kaiba. It's going to be a culture shock returning back to it."
Kaiba grunts. "You haven't changed Takkai."
"Actually I have. You're the one who's still the same." Her expression is blank, even though her tone was teasing. It's as though she was simply a telephone in a human body, voice changing while the face didn't. "I thought you hated those formal parties."
"I do." Kaiba's face was neutral as well, but at her words his face seemed to tighten.
"So you're going to one?"
"I was invited. I need to keep the idiots hosting it as allies or I'll lose a major supplier."
"And you've already ostracised all the others, so you can't risk annoying these. That makes sense..."
Kaiba stops, eyes widening slightly, then they returned to normal. "Ah yes. I'd forgotten I have three quarters of your family working for me. Your brother could never keep a secret."
"Not to me, any way." The girl now looks a little irritated, but her tone is mild and agreeable. They'd crossed the drive now, and Kaiba is just setting foot on the bottom step when she murmurs. "I missed this place. You know you're losing it when you'd rather be surrounded by maniacs and insulted by people rather than where you are." She looks both wistful and bitter. "I've been gone a year and you're the only person who actually recognised me in the first ten seconds. Considering you hardly ever spoke to me at school," - was that the faintest hint of emphasis on those two last words? - "it just seems a little odd."
Kaiba turns to look at her finally. She smiles up at him, dark green eyes sad, then walks away from the steps to the door on the car park.
Kaiba watches her go, then walks up the stairs. One hand is clenched into fist around the handle of his brief case.)
The room was warm, although colder than she was used to. Her hands rest on the arms of a wide, backless chair. And all the while, the flute music played.
(A brown haired girl chirps happily to her friends. Her friends are glowing coronas in her vision, one a short golden sun, the other a blue-white moon. But while the taller one's light seemed dimmer, it also seemed... focused. Contained. The shorter boy's magic was fluctuating, as though being used while he was unaware.
"You're not going to believe who I saw yesterday!" the girl babbles. "It was my friend Heather! I haven't seen her for ages!" She looks at the shorter boy. "You remember Heather don't you? She was my best friend for about four years. I haven't seen her for about a year now! We're going to have so much to catch up on!"
"Was she the one with the red hair? Or is that Sakura?"
"No, that's Heather. Sakura's the one I sit next to in chemistry."
The short boy nods, and the white one looks puzzled. "I'm sorry Téa, but I'm sure I don't know who you mean."
"Oh, I forgot." Téa looks distressed. "You haven't met her! She left, and then you arrived a few months later!" The worried look leaves her face, replaced by decisiveness. "I'll introduce you to her later. But I have to ask her about something." A delicate blush stains her cheeks. "I want to know all about this rumour that's been going round school."
"Is it the one about you eloping with Tristan? Some girls came into the game shop on Saturday talking about it." Again the short one.
The girl flushes all the way up to her hairline, and she looks away.
The white haired boy openly gawks, his jaw hanging somewhere near the floor until he collects himself. "Tristan. And Téa."
She nods. "When I find out who started it..."
"I feel sorry for them already," the golden boy says soothingly, rubbing her back. "Don't worry. Do you really think Tristan will stand by and let someone accuse him of being married all ready?"
The blue-white figure chuckles, and Téa smiles. Her attention is diverted though by a boy further along the path.
"Tristan!" she calls, waving vigorously. "Wait up!"
"Hey Téa!" he calls back, stopping to wait for her.
The girl runs to catch up with him, leaving the two alone. The golden boy seems about to follow her when the other grabs him.
"Yugi. What's wrong?"
"Nothing." The boy sounds surprised. "Why would there be?"
"Oh, no reason." The boy sounds embarrassed. "There just seemed to be something... off about you today, that's all."
"Speaking of seeming off, are you okay Bakura? You look exhausted."
"Oh I'm fine. I've not been sleeping too well, that's all."
"Hey you guys! Get a move on or we're gonna be late for class!" The boy has a unicorn spike, and looks irritated. Evidently, the girl has told him the news.
"Coming!" they chorus, and the shorter one sprints towards them.
The other stands still for a moment longer, looking for all the world like a statue made of light.
"Really," he murmurs - and his voice is different. Older. More dangerous. "If you're going to spy one me, you should be a little more subtle about it - ")
Blue white light flares across her vision, and when she can see again, she wants to scream.
(The brown skinned man is lying on a bed, bound to it by one wrist. The chain in long enough to let him reach what appears to be a crude bathroom, but not enough for him to reach a door.
His eyes are focused on a woman dressed in pure white robes. She is speaking Egyptian, her voice silky, her eyes cold.
"You behave yourself," she commands. "It cost me far too many men to bring you all in. I'll take exception to losing any more." She tosses a knife from one hand to the other with a slow, leisurely grace. It arcs over her head and Odion's eyes watch it hungrily. "You'll behave yourself. If you value your master's life, you'll behave."
"Let them go," he whispers hoarsely. "They cannot help you surely, let them go..."
"Oh no, you're wrong. The two of them are most helpful. In fact, if it wasn't for the two of them, then this wouldn't be possible." The knife is pointed at Odion, a few inches from his face. "I really don't want to hurt people, really I don't. But sometimes they leave me no choice. And your mistress won't need her fingers to predict the future for me, will she?"
Odion swallowed. "Don't hurt her. Please. Don't hurt them."
The woman smiles and walks away. As she reaches the door, she stops and turns. "Remember. The reverse is also true. If they don't behave themselves, then you're the one who suffers. Just think - if it wasn't for your precious Miss Ishizu, you wouldn't be in this situation."
His hands clench into fists, but he doesn't move. The chains don't look very strong; he could probably rip it from the wall with very little effort. But he won't, not with his "family's" lives on the line.
He watches the door swing shut, his face impassive. As soon as the door shuts though, and the woman's footsteps have faded though, he leaps to his feet and slams his fists into the wall.
"I have sworn," he recited, tears in his eyes. "I have sworn to serve the Ishtar family. "And if I can serve Master Marik and Miss Ishizu best by remaining still, then that," He swallows. "That must be my aim. I must do my best for them both."
He settles back onto the bed in the position he assumes for meditation. "I have sworn to serve the Ishtar family," he murmurs once more. "I pray that they are braver than I am, and do all in their power to escape." His next words are whispered below his breath, in the tone that accompanies a constant refrain.
"I have sworn to serve the Ishtar family. And if necessary, I will sacrifice my life for them.")
Tears run down her cheeks. Tears of shock, anger and shame. It is her fault. If she hadn't spoken to that child, the child sat before her playing the flute and looking so tranquil while his older sister threatened Odion, then they would not be in this mess. It is her own fault.
"Don't cry Miss Ishizu," the little boy whispers, putting the flute down. "Everything'll be okay. You just help people and be happy, and everything'll be okay." He nods, completely believing and trusting. "Big sister says so." And Ishizu puts her head down in her hands and sobs.
"Don't cry Miss Ishizu," the little boy whispers, putting the flute down. "Everything'll be okay. You just help people and be happy, and everything'll be okay." He nods, completely believing and trusting. "Big sister says so."
And Ishizu puts her head down in her hands and sobs.
The sun poked through the curtains, straight onto Mai's pillow. The woman groaned and rolled over.
"Mai?" The voice was soft and whispery, almost as timid as the knock that accompanied it. "It's seven o'clock - breakfast is ready. You said you wanted to be woken up early so you could meet someone."
Mai groaned again and sat up. "Kay Mousy," she slurred. "I'll be right there..."
There was no reply. Mousy, a friend from school and her housemate for the next month or so, was not one for talking. She was far too shy.
The blonde woman sat up slowly, running a hand through her tousled hair and trying to remember what she was going to do today. Meet someone... a guy... Joey. Yes, going to drive round to Joey's house to see if he was in. But the boy slept like log, surely she didn't have to be up this early...
Mai swung her legs over the side of her bed, and straightened the lilac shorts and strappy top that passed for her pyjamas. She lurched towards the window, and looked down on the world. The sunlight that had fallen onto her pillow was nothing more than faint flickers poking out of a huge mass of black storm clouds. Storm clouds that would probably break open the instant second she walked out of the door, completely ruining her hair and make up.
Some days a girl just couldn't catch a break...
Constructive criticism and comments welcome! Bye bye peeps!